A dream come true – France, Nov 2014.
I have been enamored by France for as long as I can remember – cobblestone streets, baguettes, coffee shops with the striped awnings, scent of Chanel on the women walking by… France is like a one stop experience of everything that is beautiful!
France is massive. When planning a visit to France, its important you identify the kind of experience you want. If you want to immerse yourself in history and World War II relics, I’d recommend you make your way down west exploring the 54 miles of D-Day beaches of Normandy, north of Bayeux – littered with WW II museums, monuments, cemeteries, and battle remains left in tribute to the courage of the armies that successfully carried out the largest military operation in history: D-Day. We, on the other hand, are obsessive wine lovers, so we crafted our itinerary down East to explore the Wine country of France!
Our 10 day itinerary in France: flew in from San Francisco to Paris and flew out of Nice.
Paris: 3 nights
Versailles: half day
Beaune: 2 nights
Dijon: half day
Avignon: 1 night
French Reviera, based in Nice: 4 nights
Day trips: Eze Village, Cannes, Antibes, Monaco
Paris has a special place in our hearts because we got engaged on River Siene, but Paris has nothing on the rest of the country. The lush country side, the quaint villages, the wine… I’d go back to France a million times and skip Paris entirely! * Pictures taken on a Canon EOS T1i – 16-35mm F/2.8 USM-L lens * Complete hi-res set : https://flic.kr/s/aHsk5r7sfq
Flew into Paris in the morning, and checked into Magellan Hotel, about a 15-minute walk from Arc de Triomphe and Park Monceau.
Day1: Arc de Triomphe:
one of the most famous national monuments in Paris, a triumphal arch commissioned by Napoleon in 1806. It stands in the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle, at the top of Champs-Élysées. We checked in to one of the cute coffee shops here and grabbed breakfast!
Musée du Louvre:
Needs no introduction. You’ll need to take a cab to get here, the museum sits on the banks of River Sienne. We made our way down the ancient hallways till we got to the incredibly crowded room that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, Mona Lisa. The artwork is surprisingly small, especially compared to the rest of the wall-sized rather interesting intricate pieces!You can spend all day exploring Louvre.. we spent half the day and then walked over to the banks of Siene, took a rickshaw ride to the Eiffel tower, and then walked on to Champs Elysees and spent the afternoon by the park
We strolled the entire length of Avenue des Champs-Élysées that evening, of course making a pitstop at the Mothership of Laduree! 🙂
Château de Versailles: We took the train down to spend the whole day exploring the grounds and Grand Canal of the royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France.
Such a romantic spot to spend the day – after walking through the Palace, we took the Palace train into the vast jardines, rented a canoe and rowed through the Grand Canal under the sunshine.
River Siene Dinner Cruise:
We got back to the hotel late afternoon and rested a little. Later that evening, on a romantic dinner cruise over the gorgeous River Siene, as we passed by some of the most stunning sights in the world – the Eiffel tower, the Louvre, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Love Lock bridge… My amazing boyfriend went down on one knee and insisted I spend the rest of my life with him… the band sang romantic songs and the crowd applauded and cheered… And I said YES!!!!! 🙂
I highlyyyy recommend this cruise – picks you up at the Banks of the river right by the Eiffel tower, and takes you through the full splendor of a panoramic view aboard an all-glass boat, refined cuisine as you cruise past all the spectacular sights Paris has to offer.
After the cruise and being incredibly buzzed from all the Champagne, we wanted to go dancing at one of the fine nightclubs on Champs Elysees… FYI, bad idea. Unless you have a spot on the VIP list, especially on a Saturday night, don’t bother. My husband convinced our cab driver in his drunken french to take us to a liquor store, picked up bottles of wine and partied up at our hotel!
Spent the day exploring Champs Elysees, had overpriced coffee and incredible Italian food! 🙂
Love Lock Bridge:
We packed a snack and make our way to the Love Lock bridge, sat by the banks of the river along with many other couples – young and old, tourists, teens – staring at the spectacular sunset over the Eiffel Tower.
Tour de Eiffel:
We then caught the brilliant light play on the Eiffel tower at the top of every hour. We stood in a looong line at 11pm to take the last elevator ride up the tower (well worth it) – it took us about an hour for the round trip, but was an experience of a lifetime!
After Paris, we began our journey down to Eastern France to explore the wine country of Beaune, Lyon and Dijon. We wanted to cover Loire Valley, but unfortunately, it would’ve been an all day excursion and we didn’t have sufficient time – but I hear it well worth the visit.
Dijon and Beaune:Day 4 :
We took the train down to Beaune with a pitstop at Dijon. My dad always said the French country side is possibly the most beautiful in all of Europe… and I can’t disagree! The clouds rolling into the country side, little farmhouses, sheep that dotted the lush green hills, endless vineyards .. just a few memories from the train ride up to Dijon!
You can rent bikes in Dijon and explore the gorgeous wine country, stop for wine tasting and spend the afternoon here if you’d like.We decided to move quickly on to my fav place in France – Beaune.
I am practically seduced by Beaune. Possibly the *best* place in the world for wine tasting, Beaune, also the capital of Burgundy, is a tiny town surrounded by the Côte d’Or vineyards in the winemaking region in France. There is no mode of public transport. We got to Beaune around 3 pm and Everything near the station was closed. We ordered a cab which took over an hour to arrive! Eventually we made our way to the hotel: Novotel Beaune, a mile away from the town center.
Not much to do by foot here, also it was pouring the whole time we were there.Even so, we walked to a Massive Wine-Cellar close by, that housed maybe a million bottles of wine from all over Burgundy and the rest of France and chatted with the owner for a while. He picked out couple of bottles of what he said is a local favorite (and ours too), a local Bourgogne Pinot Noir.
Day 5: (my FAV part of the itinerary)Pick up a car – its the only way to get around here!
La lVoie des Vignes:
A fun biking tour through the vineyards of Burgundy. Unfortunately the days we were in Beaune, it was pouring – so we had to pass on this.
Marche aux Vins:
an incredible self-guided wine tasting experience like no other! You walk in – pay at the door for a wine tasting tour and you’ re handed these cute ornate silver spoons that serve as tasting glasses for your self-guided tour. I say self-guided coz it IS self-guided. They ask you to take the steps down to the caves (more like stone dungeons) that opens into a loooooooong tunnel, lit only by faint candle lights and hurricanes.
You can see “prison cells” on each side with barrels of wine behind the bars.
As you make your way through, you have “tasting stations” where you can help yourself to one-two-three-hundred glasses of wine. After getting past around 10-12 stations, you walk up the stairs and the tour concludes in an ancient Church! What an incredible, intoxicating experience!! 🙂
Strolling Beaune: After all the drinking, it was still pouring outside. We decided to walk to a coffee shop – the prettiest of its kind in Beaune.
Dinner at a local Diner: I can’t remember the name of the place but it was right in the heart of Beaune. It had this 1920s theme complete with the vintage lamps, old wallpaper and buckets of Champagne!
*Les Caves de l’Abbaye*:
this place is the epitome of “quaint” (my husband’s favorite word to describe France). Within 5 mins of the town centre, set in an old underground cave – this is a wine lovers paradise. The town of Beaune has a handful bars and restaurants that close by 8pm and the city is asleep before you know it! We drove around looking for this bar I’d read about – till we discovered a curtained door, stairs that walk you down to a massive Cave – that houses some of the finest wine made in Burgundy and also houses a Music studio! The owner Guillaume is a Wine connoisseur & professor who also teaches music!
We were so lucky to be the only people in the cave that night. Guillaume sat down with us and told us about how he travelled the world learning to make and sell wine for years, and eventually decided to spend the rest of his life with his wife and loving kids in the heart of Burgundy. He taught us about how to differentiate between the different tastes, what differentiates wine across different regions of the world.. and gave us a TON to “taste” :)He then let us drink and play chess for as long as we wanted 🙂
Day 6 Avignon:
We DROVE down 400km to Van Gogh’s inspiration of the Starry Night – Avignon.
This a small town with quite a large population, narrow streets, tons of cars… We picked up a zippy Opal to get us from Beaune to Avignon.
In Avignon, we stayed at hotel Kyriad Courtine Gare, which is adjacent to the station and also Hertz rental, so you can drop off your car here before you head out of Avignon.
Rocher des Doms-Rhone river: Walk to the Rhone river, stroll the park!
Arles for Van Gogh: Drive 45 min north to Arles for Van Gogh (where Van Gogh stayed). Make sure you check out ‘Le Café La Nuit’ and ‘Le Jardin de l’Hotel Dieu’.
Les Luminessences D’avignon & Pope’s Palace (Palais des Papes) – Get there early as most of these places shut down by 5pm.
Day 7, 8, 9 &10: FRENCH RIVIERA
Day 7: Nice
We took the train down to Nice. We decided to base ourselves in Nice at Hotel Boreal Nice for the next few days as we explored the South of France. The hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Nice, less than a 10 min walk from the stationNice is a pleasant change from Beaune & Avignon, there’s just so much to do here, so many places to eat, drink, walk through.. keep in mind the beaches in Nice are Pebble beaches. So you’re spending more time by the beach than at the beach.
Place Messena: is the main square in Nice, a large plaza that lies between the Old and New Towns, and is lined with shops and restaurants.
Walk your way down to the Cours Saleya market, at the heart of the Old Town and is always pulsating with life. Striped awnings cover its centre and shelter the products on offer in the daily market. Crowds of locals and tourists come here to do their shopping or sometimes just to look and snap photos of the colorful displays.
Drinks by the Beach:
The night life in Nice is pumping – loads of bars by the oceanside. We walked for hours through Nice past the old town, the cathedral, to the beach, got a few drinks, watched the ships sail past the lighthouse… and made our way back for the night.
Day 8: Cannes:
Cannes is a comfortable 1 hr train ride from Nice. Cannes lives up to its image, the upscale stores that line the streets, the incredibly expensive restaurants by the Mediterranean … get prepared to spend some, to enjoy the luxuries of Cannes. But aside from the glamour and luxury shopping, there’s little to do here. Instead, you could take a ferry up to the islands off Cannes to hike and explore.
Ile Saint Marguerite: There are two islands off the coast of Cannes that are small, private and honestly more interesting to explore. We decided to take the ferry up to Ile Saint Marguerite.
Antibes: We stopped by the cute coastal town of Antibes, watched the sunset and grabbed dinner before heading back to Nice. The train stop is halfway between the two towns.
Day 9: Monaco
We decided to take the bus up to Monaco – and I’m glad we did, coz the bus ride over looking the Riviera was significantly more impressive than the destination! The reason we wanted to visit was to check out the Gran Prix race track – and my husband recognized in a jiffy! But aside from that, well there’s the Principality of Monaco and the luxury stores – but overall Monaco was unimpressive! So, we made an alternate plan – we decided to take the bus to Eze village from Monaco.
Eze is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in southeastern France, about an hour’s ride from Nice. We were so bored at Monaco, we took the bus halfway down to Nice… and decided to hop on the next bus that went up to Eze. We had to wait about an hour till the next bus arrived, but the sights by the bus stop were incredible. (see above).
Your jaw will drop at the gorgeous views of the Mediterranean from Eze, a charming hilltop town on the Cote d’Azur. Its beautiful cobblestone streets and hot-pink bougainvillea are a far cry from the glamour of Cannes or St-Tropez.
Make your way up the narrow stone paved streets to the top – there’s a Cactus garden. There’s a ticket fee to get up to see the Cactus garden – which is most definitely worth it. Soak in the breathtaking views of the Mediterranian!
On our way down from the Cactus garden, we stopped at one of the AMAZing restaurants in Eze for some fantastic pasta, the scent of basil still fresh in the pesto… and of course wine!
There are so many lovely towns in Cote d’Azur – like Bellavilliers, St. Tropeze, Provence, Marsailles… if I do revisit France, I’d want to spend my entire vacation driving through, exploring and experiencing the magic of the French Riviera. Traveling through the most mesmerizing country with my favorite person in the world, we fell in love all over again.
There’s no better way to experience the myth and romance of France, than to travel with the one you love!
The ring he gave me, against the deep blue Mediterranean waters glistening under romance of the morning sun! 🙂